Episode 2: Israel's Standing & The Role of the Church

Peace to Live By Episode 2: Israel’s Standing & The Role of the Church - Daniel Litton
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[Transcripts may not match broadcasted sermon word for word, and may contain extra material that was cut from the broadcast due to time constraints]

       I hope everyone is doing well this morning.

       In order to really have an accurate understanding of the New Testament, I believe it is especially important to have a correct understanding of how God views the Nation of Israel, his chosen people. I would go so far as to say that an inaccurate understanding of God’s relations with Israel undermines one’s appropriate and true understanding of the New Testament. What I mean is that not believing that Israel is still God’s chosen people in this day and age is problematic, both in understanding God and understanding Israel as a people.

       Today, I am going to discuss two different areas in regard to Israel. They are as follows: 1) What is the relationship between the nation of Israel and the Christian church, 2) How does this relationship play out in the future. I will also discuss that purpose and nature of the church of God, which includes what we are supposed to do and how we are supposed to act, though the power of Christ. I am going to talk about the difference between what is commonly referred to as ‘the universal church’ versus what ‘the local church’ is. There are similarities, while there are also differences.

       Let’s consider the first the relationship between the nation of Israel and the Christian church. I do not feel particularly comfortable looking at the church first in this question because the church came into effect from the rejection by the Nation of Israel of the Lord Jesus Christ, God coming in human flesh to die for the sins of his people, and really the whole world.

       Let’s consider what the Apostle Paul stated in Romans 11. In the first verse of that chapter, Paul exclaims, “I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means!” (Romans 11:1, ESV). Now, let’s jump down to verses 11-13, which state: “So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!” (Romans 11:11-12, ESV). Here, we see that it was from the Israelites rejection of God that God chose to share the message of the Gospel to the Gentiles. Furthermore, God desires that we still accept the truth, as John 3:16 also states. But, let’s now look at verses 15-16: “For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches” (ESV). Here again, we see God’s desire that they accept His provided salvation, which now includes the whole world.

       The Apostle Paul, though, while he talks about the Israelites needing to be included in salvation, also warns the church, that is, those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, from becoming arrogant about their inclusion in God’s plan. Let’s read Romans 11:17-22:

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. (ESV)

In looking at this paragraph, we see that the church is the ‘addition’ of God’s kingdom, not the original intent of His kingdom. To state that again, Paul says, “remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.” That is, God’s chosen people were those of the Nation of Israel originally, and the church came after that rejection. If we as the church forget this and become proud, Paul promises that God will too indeed cut us off. I, however, believe what Philippians 1:6-7a states, which is, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace,” (ESV).

       Paul’s hope in Romans 11 is that the Israelites accept God’s plan of salvation. Let’s finish the reading for this included passage about the Nation of Israel: “And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree” (Romans 11:23-24, ESV). This is indeed an encouraging passage. God can save His chosen people. That is why it is so important for the Gospel to still be shared with them. In Matthew 28, Jesus instructed the Eleven to share the Gospel with “all nations” (v. 19, ESV). Note, this had to be a surprise and revelation to the Apostles, as God had up to this point in time only dealt with the Nation of Israel. But now, everyone in the whole world is to be included. We are still to preach to Gospel to Israelites, as we have ordained opportunity, and hope for them to be saved.

       Now, let's talk about the second area of discussion about Israel, which is how does this relationship between Israel and the church play out in the future?” Undoubtedly, God still has a plan to bring about the fulfillment of His promises laid out in the Old Testament to the Jews, which have not been fulfilled yet. God is not a lair, and will indeed do what He says He will do. Let us consider what is said in Acts 1:6, for it says, “So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority” (ESV). So, the church is the body of God’s chosen people between now and then, the future. But God will reestablish his kingdom here on the earth. Interestingly enough, the Jews will believe that the coming antichrist is indeed God. And a kingdom will be established in the future under his reign. The Jews will again setup the system of sacrifices, and have their land back, the temple mount, which rightly belongs to them.

       God will set up a reign from the Jewish people, the Nation of Israel, for 1,000 years, which is commonly called the Millennial Reign of Christ. This view is typically referred to as dispensational premillennialism. The idea here is that the Nation of Israel is a separate group of people from the Church itself. In the Old Testament, God said he would establish a kingdom on the earth for the Israelites. Christ reigns as king for this kingdom, and that is what is going to be established. If we read Revelation 20: 1-6, we can see this:

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:1-6, ESV)

It is important to note that this kingdom starts with only saved Jews, and not just any Jews. There will be some born who do not accept Christ as king, and they will face judgment just like anyone else who does not accept Jesus.

       I want to shift gears here a bit and talk about the church, specifically purpose and nature of the church of God, which includes what we are supposed to do and how we are supposed to act, though the power of Christ.

       First, let’s start off by defining what the universal church is. Let’s look at perhaps the most famous verse found in all of Scripture, which reads, ““For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, ESV). This is God’s church, the collection of people who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. The church, then, is a body of people, and not a physical structure, building, or organization. Consider a verse found in Acts 20:28, in which the Apostle Paul is talking to the early church elders, giving instruction, as he is about to enter the last part of his life. He tells them, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (ESV). What I want to focus on here is the fact that “he obtained” the church, that is, His people whom God calls His, “with his own blood.” So, a hefty price was paid for these people who, as a body, constitute the church.

       How does the church obtain new members? God has designed that his people, those who are already members of the church, who have been saved by His grace through having faith, are the ones who are to go and to share the message of God’s salvation. It is written in Mark 16, the Lord Jesus Christ speaking, “And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16, ESV). It is by this method that people are born again, and thusly, automatically become members of the universal church. Therefore, we conclude that anyone who believes on the Lord Jesus is saved, and therefore a member. So, anyone who is saved is a member of the universal church. The qualification to be a member, then, of the universal church, is that one be saved.
 
       What does Christ want for His church? What is His goal for their lives? Let’s consider a passage found in Ephesians 5, in which the Apostle Paul is discussing the relationship of a husband to his wife. The passage reads, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27, ESV). First, Christ by His action on the cross has cleansed the members of the church from their individual sins. This is a one time sanctification, but also a continually sanctification because we, as members, are not immediately ridden of the sin that is within our flesh. Christ, at the end of our lives, and at the end of time, wants to be able to look at the church, seeing that it has been sanctified by His truth. This is both true on an individual basis and on a collective basis. Remember what Jesus prayed concerning the Eleven disciples in the garden before His crucifixion? He said to the Father, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17, ESV). Let’s consider another verse in the Ephesians 5 passage, which discusses our relationship with Christ as members of the church. It states, “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body” (Ephesians 5:28-30, ESV).

       We know that we who are saved are members of the church, as we have already discussed. But there is a deeper truth here. We are members of His body on eye-level, but also spiritually. Let’s consider a section of Scripture found in Romans 6. The Apostle Paul states, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4, ESV). Being a member of the body of Christ, then, means that we “walk in newness of life.” The Apostle Paul also asked in 1 Corinthians, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 6:15a, ESV). And a little later he said, “But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” (1 Corinthians 6:17, ESV). And again, he also said, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19c-20, ESV).

       Now I want to discuss what is meant by the phrase ‘local church.’ The thing of it is that the term ‘local church’ can mean many things. That is, there may be differences in what is perceived when discussing a church that is local. Let’s consider the Corinthian church in the New Testament, for instance, which is the church obviously, that the Apostle Paul wrote the two letters that bear its name. The Corinthian church was local in that it served the people of Corinth, but was not associated with churches outside the city (that we know of) throughout the region of Greece. Nevertheless, a church can just involve a group of people which meets within one of the member’s homes, as is noted in 1 Corinthians 16:19. This verse says, “The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 16:19, ESV). However, local church might refer to a collection of local churches, as noted in Acts 9:31. This verse says, “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up” (Acts 9:31a, ESV). We can understand from this passage that the word ‘church’ refers to different areas, such as “all Judea and Galilee and Samaria” and does not include other churches.

       Now I want to discuss what the purpose of the church. It is important to note that the church is not an organization, but an organism. It is not an organization because an organization implies that the people of the group work together for their common good, whereas with the church it is actually God working through the people, as they yield to the Holy Spirit, for everyone’s common good. As we see in Acts 2 with the first church, the church comprises of believers for the purpose of worshiping God. Not only this, but also we note that the church works to benefit each other as members, for Jesus himself said, “‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Mark 12:31b, ESV). This is the basic foundation for the church, though we can get much more specific.

       Let’s consider some text found in Colossians 1 in discussing the purpose of the church. I will pick in verse 9, and carry it through to verse 14:

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:9-14, ESV)

We can note several key and important things from this passage, as it relates to the church. As members, the people of God are to seek His knowledge, which he has laid forth throughout the pages of Scripture. This is apparent when Paul says, “that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,” (ESV). By doing this, it allows the people of God to live good and acceptable lives, which is totally acceptable to God and makes Him pleased, for Paul stated, “so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him,” (ESV). Next, by doing these things, it yields in the people of God both good works and further increased knowledge, as it is stated, “bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (ESV). Paul notes too that all those who have accepted Jesus share as heirs together with Christ. I want to consider the status of the members of the church, which is that they have been saved from their sins. This is their standing with God, thus constituting the church with all its regulations.

       Let’s look at another passage from the Bible that can help us understand the purpose of the church, which is found in 1 Thessalonians 1. I will consider verses 3 through 7, which are the following:

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. (1 Thessalonians 1:2-7, ESV)

Consider that the church has a “work of faith” first off. The people of God are marked by their faith in God. This is so basic to the premise of the church. Second, consider that God’s people have a “labor of love.” Not only is good works important to God’s people, but also the fact that these good works need to be done in love. Love is foundational to our actions (see 1 Corinthians 13). Third, note that the Apostle mentions “steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Indeed, the church must not only have faith and good works, it also needs to have hope. Without hope there is nothing to shoot for. It is also important to note that Paul states church members are to be imitators of him. We can say that this would include any good leader of the church who models Christ’s behavior. The Thessalonians, by becoming imitators of Paul, had then proved to be good examples to the Macedonia believers and those in Achaia.

       Finally, let’s consider how the church is supposed to look to the world, that is, to those people who do not know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. Consider what Jesus said to the Jews in the Sermon on the Mount, which is also applicable to the church:

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16, ESV)

So, church members are to be individually “salt.” Salt is something that is tasty, or rather, makes food tasty as a preservative. Therefore, we are to be attractive to those in the world around us. The Apostle Paul noted that, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them” (1 Corinthians 9:19, ESV) and also that, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:22b-23, ESV). Jesus moves from the individual to a more collective picture with his illustrations. Just like a hillside city cannot be hidden, or a lamp gives light to everyone, so should we individual do this, and collectively. I do not think the emphasis here is only one sharing one’s faith, but really the emphasis is on “good works” that those around us can see. That will draw them to God, so that they will want what we have in Christ. They will glorify God from what they see in us. Paul said to the believers in Ephesus, “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true),” (Ephesians 5:8-9, ESV).

       In conclusion today, perhaps you've been listening to what I've been talking about—about the Israelites, the Nation of Israel, and about the universal church and the local church. Perhaps you are an Israelite, but do not know Jesus, and you have believed what you have heard today. Or, perhaps, you are not an Israelite, but you still think that what I have been saying is true, and you would like to know Jesus. Well, no matter who you are, God leaves open the door of His salvation to anyone who would believe. It doesn't matter who you are, what your background is, or even what you have done in your life. There is nothing you could do, no evil you could commit, that would make God not offer you his salvation. There is nothing you have to worry about. If you have heard my message today, and you believe that God is real, and that Jesus really is the Lord of heaven and earth that He says that He is.

       If you want to know that you are saved from your sins, have eternal life, and be set free from the bondage of your sins—from the worry and the concern and the weight that comes from living in sin—if you want to be set free from all of that, and accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, then I want you to pray a prayer with me something like this:

God, I am a sinner. As a matter of fact, my whole life I have sinned and done what I wanted to do, not showing you any regard or reverence. I have done things the way that I have wanted to do them, and it has not turned out so great. Now, I accept your free gift of life through Jesus Christ. I believe that you sent Jesus to the earth in human flesh as a man, who died in my place on the cross, and that this action by Jesus, the blood He shed, now stands as the payment for my sins, which separated me and you. I believe that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day and that He is now in heaven with you, seated at your right hand. I believe that Jesus really is Lord of everything. God, please transform my life, though Christ, and make me like Jesus.

So, if you have prayed that prayer today, you can rest assured, no matter who you are, that you have been saved by God's grace.

       Let's pray:

Father, I thank you for these things from your Word, and learning about your relationship with the Nation of Israel, and how that's still applicable today—how you have still kept the Israelites gathered together in the land which belongs to them, and you are preparing the world for the end time. Father, I pray for those who have just accepted Jesus would grow in You, and would not wavier, and that they would be grounded in the truth that they have just believed. I pray for those of us of who already know Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior, that we would continue to grow, and continue to seek to please you—in all areas of our lives. So, bless us as we go about the rest of our day today, and continue to make us like Jesus. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.

-Daniel Litton